We see them on the back of trains, flashing to let drivers and pedestrians know the end of the train has gone through and the crossing is clear. We make jokes about “seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and hoping it’s not a freight train headed our way.” Usually it means we are seeing an end to the problems or issues facing us in life for that day. But one of the most unusual awards is the Red Lantern Award given to the last musher and their dog sled team after they cross the finish line of the Iditarod Race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska beginning in early March of each year.
The Iditarod is a race of approximately 1,049 miles across a barren and harsh landscape of tundra, spruce pines, over hills and mountain passes. Across rivers and snow bridges with sub-zero temperatures and wind chills of -100 degrees F (-73 degrees C) and blizzard whiteout conditions. The race can take from 9 to 15 days although one racer was out 32 and a half days on the trail. The area is sparsely populated with few villages or towns. The race of endurance is a tribute to the early days of freight and mail carriers and their team of dogs from a time before snow mobiles.
There is always the traditional trophy with all the trappings for the winner who is then the Celebrity of the Year until the next race. While most of the competitors are from Alaska, there have been entries from fourteen countries including a Swiss winner, Martin Buser, the first international winner in 1992.
In the old days of mushers with their dog teams and sleds filled with freight and mail traveling through the wilderness, a lantern burning brightly was hung outside of the local trading posts along the way to let others know there was a traveler out on the trail. Only when that musher and his dogs had safely arrived was the light extinguished. The light was also known as “The Widows” lantern.
Today, the Red Lantern is still left burning brightly until the last musher and the dogs have safely crossed the Finish Line. They are given The Red Lantern Award for perseverance, for going the last mile to finish.
While most of us will never do the Iditarod Race through the Alaskan wilderness and face the challenges of that particular trail, we face our own races each day to reach a goal of some sort. Some days, it’s just getting through the day to face another. Though there may be no real Red Lantern Award at the end of each trial, tribulation or crisis we face, we can mentally reward ourselves for having continued to strive toward that light at the end of the road, the trail or end of day.
A lantern sits high on a bookshelf in my office and though it’s not red, the color doesn’t really matter. It’s in a prominent place where I can see it on days when I feel overwhelmed to the point of desperation and giving up. Then I’m reminded, there is a light waiting for me if I can just persevere.
Writer, counselor, perennial student and seeker of truth and spirit is an apt description for Barbara. Currently, Barbara is working on her first novel with two more planned for the future. Her first book, “Let’s Talk, What You Don’t Know About Credit Can Hurt You,” was written after fifteen years in a career than spanned collections, credit and mortgage lending. Barbara is glad to have been a part of getting the Indian Mound in Florence listed on the Alabama State Historical Register and soon the National Historical Registry. She lives in Florence AL with her husband Johnnie and two precious rescue dogs; Snookies and Daisy.